Vandercook Grey Paint

I am preparing to repaint one of my Universal IIIs and am trying to come up with a suitable paint that I can apply without having to haul it to a painter.
On letpress Greg Fischer suggested brush painting with Rust-Oleum Professional High-Performance Enamel “Smoke Gray”, but I would prefer to use spray cans in order to get a smooth finish. Is there a paint anyone has used that proved to be durable and a decent color match to the Vandercook grey?



Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Gerald Lange
17 years ago

A while back a friend of mine picked up a Universal I that had first been offered to me for $100. I passed on it. She painted it purple and black, pulled off those crap 50s cylinder guards and as much shelving as possible. That was one cool looking press.


Kevin Rudynski
17 years ago

Hello Daniel,

I am restoring my SP-20, and I’ve already repainted it with Rust-Oleum Professional High Performance Enamel “Smoke Gray”. It is slightly darker, and not quite as ‘cool’ as the original color. But I am happy with the outcome.

Since the body of my press was very rusted and pitted, after removing the rust, I primed with rustoleum primer – two coats – including a light sanding with 220 paper between coats. This step helped to even out the pitting – especially the lower body. I used primer, because when I was done getting the rust off of the press, there wasn’t any paint left. I also primed and painted the underneath side of the cabinet and bed after cleaning those areas of rust. I then brushed on two thin coats of smoke gray, again I sanded lightly with 220 between coats. I did thin the paint very slightly – two to three drops of mineral spirits to 1 pint. I have successfully used Penetrol with rustoleum instead of spirits for thinning in the past, but I didn’t use it on this project. I used a 2″ high quality bristle brush for the large flat areas and a small 1″ artist’s bristle brush for small areas.

For all of the parts that I could take off, including the lower braces, shelving, back panel etc, I painted horizontally.

I did spray paint smaller parts to avoid paint buildup on those pieces. The spray painted parts were done in three light coats. I found there could be a very slight variation between the spray and brush color. Overall, the brushed-on paint leveled to a very smooth, almost glassy finish. It is very hard and durable, and ink cleans off quite readily–not porous at all. I agree that whichever method you decide to use, progressive light coats are the best way to go. I have found that light sanding between coats is very important to getting a smooth finish.

I hope to post some pictures of the restoration soon.

The ‘powder coating’ seems like a great way to go if that is an option for you. My best to you Daniel as you proceed with your restoration.

Kevin Rudynski

Terry Chouinard
17 years ago


I’ve disassembled and painted a handful of presses, and I tell you, nothing commonnly available comes as close to the original Vandercook ‘Machine Tool Gray’ like Rustoleum Smoke Gray enamel. Paul mentioned that I had used a roller on my 325G, and that is true. I’ve used a small to medium-sized roller for large flat areas, such as the feed board, the cabinet body, the carriage return tray (Paul? What’s this part called? I have em on our V4’s and I’ve seen em on a Uni I or an SP20, I forget) and so on. I’ve minimized lap marks with the roller by using a very fine velvety roller surface. Be conservative with your paint. I’ve built up nice smooth surfaces by repeatedly applying thin coats.

I’ve used cans of spray paint for removable parts and inside the cabinetry. As for the parts, I take what I can off, clean it up with a wire wheel, take it to an isolated, dust-free area, lay it on a piece of card, and hit it with a light coat of spray paint. I think building up thin layers of paint is key to a successful outcome.

I’ve also used a small chipbrush where a roller can’t quite fit. And again, be conservative with your paint. Common sense dictates you paint with a brush first, then use the roller.

If you have to spray a part in place (meaning you can’t take it off) remove any set screws (you don’t want to paint those and keep em stuck) and tape the clean areas off with some of that blue masking tape.

I always like to have a little fun and paint the handle a color. I was inspired by a press with a green handle my friend Mike Kaylor has/had, and an entirely blue Universal I saw at Ed Rayher’s Swamp Press & Typefoundry up in Massachusetts. That last one was truly a sight to behold. I’m with Paul, no reason you can’t go with a custom color. What about a fireball red! You’d be an instant legend. Two years ago I rescued an SP15 from our art department that some creative being took its misery out on by painting the poor machine with some monkey sh*t brown, just like a 1958 Buick Super. Man I tell ya, I am serious!

Just to touch on a topic Duncan mentioned, I highly recommend ‘powder coating’ for type cabinets & slant tops. I live in a rural area, so there’s an outfit on my way into work that sandblasts & paints propane tanks. Costs me about $50-75 for each piece I bring in. Sad looking, rusty cabinets come back looking brand-spanking new.

I’ll be looking forward to hearing how your repainting goes.

Duncan Dempster
17 years ago

“…painting such objects can be accomplished with an electric charge that ensures that the paint is disposited only on the metal surfaces…”

Sounds like powder coating, I think that takes a pretty specialized set up to do well, although I’ve seen a powder-coating kit at Sears that purports to give good results at home…

Rolling can work, but probably best on small areas where the width of the roller is greater than the area being painted (e.g. touching up the edge of a feedboard). Lap marks, however, are a bummer.

Spray painting from cans has always left something to be desired for me, never smooth enough, but it’s not that expensive to rent an HVLP spraygun for a day, fill up the resevoir, and spray like a pro on-site. Or maybe a painter friend has the requisite gear. I painted my apartment with no training and my father-in-law did a nice job on his car with HVLP. You can hook it up to the compressor that you undoubtadley have in the corner, mask off and prep and hang plastic the same way you would for aerosol spraypainting, suit up and mask-up (organic vapour cartridge), and you could be done in an afternoon. Take your feedboard off and take it down to a paint shop to have the color matched in oil-based enamel (there might be some viable water-based options too; some auto paints are waterbased acrylics). If you’re gonna do it, do it up (custom colors? candy flake?). If you do it, you might want to bring in anything else in need of a new coat of paint and hit it at the same time– your bike, your lawn furniture– to make it all worthwhile. Vaseline rubbed on your face will allow the overspray to wipe off easily. Ok, Maybe not for the faint of heart– But not as hard as it may seem. Good luck!

Duncan Dempster
Honolulu, Hawaii

Paul Moxon, Moderator
17 years ago

I asked Fritz this very question about a year ago. At that point he hadn’t come across the factory specs. I do know that many Vandercook catalogs specify the color as “Machine Tool Gray,” but I’m not sure this technically means anything today.

Rust-Oleum “Smoke Gray” is not a perfect match, but is quite close if not a bit darker. I was inspired to go this route after seeing the 325G at Wells College that Terry Chouinard painted. He recommended using a small diameter roller. Logistics dictate that some press have to be painted in place.

On the other hand, I have recently been told that spray painting such objects can be accomplished with an electric charge that ensures that the paint is disposited only on the metal surfaces, but have not researched this. Daniel, please let folks here know what you option you undertake. Of course, there’s no reason not to go with a custom color.

Copyright © 2024 vandercookpress.infoTheme by SiteOrigin
Scroll to top
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x